06 November 2008

When Advocacy Ends

I've worked with all sorts of parents over the years. I expect them to advocate for their children...and I also expect that advocacy will evolve over the years. Supporting your seven-year old should be different from supporting your seventeen-year old. It doesn't mean that your love for the child changes. Instead, parents should be looking to help students develop problem-solving skills throughout the years. I always worried the most about those rare students who had parents that excused everything---who had children who could do no wrong. I wondered what would happen to these kids in the workplace. Was mommy going to show up and tell the kid's boss that s/he shouldn't expect the worker to show up on time every day or focus on their job instead of playing games?

For other students, however, there is a different kind of transition. I'm talking here about students with 504 plans or who have IEPs (and are high-functioning). These children often have highly-involved parents (and not necessarily in a bad or overindulgent way)...but once they leave the cocoon of the public school system, they don't always have access to the accommodations that they have been previously given.

There was a recent article in the WaPo about students in this situation who are trying to transition from high school to college.

A generation of students accustomed to receiving help for special learning needs is entering college. The percentage of students identified with learning disabilities who graduate from high school and go on to four-year colleges jumped from one in 100 in 1987 to about one in nine last year. And those who go on to any kind of post-secondary education went from a third to almost three-quarters by 2003. But some are finding that the transition isn't easy.

Many students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or memory troubles have had years of education shaped by intense parental support, involved teachers and legally mandated school safety nets.

But what colleges must do is far less defined legally, and professors and administrators at some schools seem to remain skeptical about the needs that students might have. Schools must provide assistance to students, but only if the students disclose their disabilities.

Most students don't. Some are tired of being labeled. Some are unable to afford the extensive and recent cognitive testing that most colleges require as proof of disability. Some just don't get around to it until they start failing classes, at which point it's often too late to salvage the semester.

Even if colleges and parents continue to provide support, I still wonder if there is some sort of point where these accommodations end. While I am sure that the ADA could have an impact on employment---are there employers out there who will oblige Attention Deficit Disorder? Or will there be an assumption that a 30-year old has acquired the self-management skills to work in their chosen career? Is society at large as tolerant as we must be within the confines of the public school system? If not, what do we do to ensure that when advocacy from outside ends, students are ready to move forward on their own?


Clix said...

I think school is - and should be - more accommodating than society at large. For example, one student I had a couple of years ago was in a motorized wheelchair and had a one-on-one parapro. I doubt that's an option in college, but I certainly think he can expect to find that all the buildings have doors and hallways that are wide enough for him to get around easily. Ideally, it's a gradual transition from dependence to management - as it is for every individual.

PS: I've got an award I'm passing on to you! Stop by to check it out :)

Mr. McGuire said...

As the parent of two college freshman, I have found that it is impossible to get an academic adviser that has correct information. I can't even imagine how impossible it would be if you had a child with any type of special needs.

From my experience, colleges are so unorganized that any help would be mostly by accident. I think the standard for help for college students is much, much lower because most of the students don't require much assistance to be successful.